Attention, drivers! The future is here, and it looks something like this:
That's Autopilot, a new self-driving feature of the Tesla Model S, in action. Ho. Lee. Cow.
Autopilot, despite its name, doesn't make navigational turns for you (so you'll need both hands on the wheel) or know what to do at stoplights. But using a combination of external sensors, GPS, and cameras, it's able to do pretty much everything else. It can speed up, slow down, avoid obstacles, change lanes, and even help you parallel park.
It's ... pretty incredible.
Michael Ballaban of Jalopnik recently took Autopilot for a hilarious test drive. Er, well, technically he was more of a passenger. The car did most of the driving itself. After watching his experience, though, it seems that the future of driving is equal parts glee and terror.
Between bouts of wonderment and near-hysteria, Michael describes Tesla's Autopilot as "the ultimate execution of cruise control."
And the cool thing? Autopilot is just the beginning for self-driving cars.
Self-driving technology like Tesla's Autopilot is getting better and better.
It's not perfect yet. CNET recently reported that videos of Tesla Autopilot "fails" are starting to pop up all over the web, with these cars suddenly jerking to the side of the road or into oncoming traffic.
But we could be on the verge of a tremendous breakthrough in vehicle safety ... and that's what this is really about.
Autopilot is still technically in testing, and the data from each mile logged by a Model S driver gets reported back to Tesla for rigorous analysis on how to improve the platform. Soon, they say, Autopilot will be able to read stoplights, road signs, and, within just a couple of years, take you from Point A to Point B completely on its own.
Meanwhile, some of the smartest minds at Google are working on similar technology in both retrofitted Lexus SUVs and completely custom — and adorable — cars built entirely to drive themselves.
Of course, all this is, at the moment, pretty much meaningless to most of us. The Tesla Model S starts at about $69,900, making it a pretty high-end buy. But Tesla's plan all along has been to use early profits from its initial Roadster and now Model S to put out a much more affordable option.
That means a world where driverless cars are available to all of us might not be all that far off.
If we can one day take the unpredictability of human behavior out of driving, we could wind up saving a ton of lives — maybe even a million per year or more.
In the meantime, it's just fun to watch as driverless technology comes of age.
Michael Ballaban puts it perfectly in his article:
"It really is eerie at first, to be sitting in the driver's seat and see the wheel moving itself. You see massive trucks to the left, and suicidal taxis to the right, and you know, you just know, that you're going to smash into one of them and face a very apologetic Tesla representative in the passenger seat.
But you don't."
Watch the highlights of Michael's test drive here. You won't regret it.